“Dear Pete: Can you tell me what to include in a cover letter? One of my target employers just posted an opening for my dream job, and I really want to stand out from other candidates.”
Like your resume, every single word in your cover letter needs to serve a purpose and enhance your perceived value. While each cover letter needs to be customized based on the employer/job and based on what you have to offer, here are 8 areas to consider when you decide what to include in a cover letter:
- The basics (contact information, the date, a salutation, and your signature). At the top of your letter, include contact information for yourself and for the employer, a salutation addressed to a specific person (i.e. “Dear Mr. Smith” or “Dear Jim”… not “to whom it may concern”), and the date you are sending the letter. At the bottom of your letter, include your name and signature.
- An attention-grabbing first sentence. While you ultimately want to stand on your own feet, the best way to start your letter is to mention a mutual acquaintance. If you have been referred by a person that the hiring manager respects, you gain instant credibility and stand out from other applicants.
- Answers to both questions. Your cover letter must answer both questions: “why us?” and “why you?” In other words, you need to tell the employer why you want to work for them (in the job being advertised), AND you need to tell the employer why they should want to hire you.
- Relevant achievements. Tell the employer how you have delivered results in the past that will be relevant to the job you are applying for. Past performance is used as a predictor of future performance.
- Third-party endorsements. Find a way to include third-party endorsements in your cover letter somehow, either by using short quotes from your references about your character or the quality of your work or by highlighting awards, honors, or recognition that you have received from impartial sources.
- A call-to-action. Do not leave your follow-up in the hands of the hiring person. Instead, end your letter by indicating how you will follow-up. For example, you could write something like the following:
“Enclosed is a copy of my resume. You may reach me directly at emailaddress [at] yahoo [dot] com or at (xxx) xxx-xxxx. I’ll plan to contact you by phone on _______ (select a date 7-10 days from the date of when you send your letter) if you do not get a chance to contact me before then. Thank you for your time and consideration.”
- Personalized P.S. statement. This is an optional copywriting secret. If it makes sense, you can end your letter with a P.S. statement that enhances your value further (i.e. a link to a web site with a sample of your work or a link to a web site with video testimonials from your references). You could also mention something that you share in common with the hiring person.
- Extras. When you send in your cover letter, you should also include your resume and any other marketing materials (i.e. sample recommendations) or work samples that could enhance your candidacy.
I hope this article helps you decide what to include in a cover letter!